Bell, throttling and quid pro quo

20 Dec

There’s an old saying that always makes me laugh: Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. It’s a particularly poignant maxim when it comes to conspiracy theories and large internet providers. Basically, if you suspect they’re doing something, it’s because they probably are.

That sure looks to be the case with the news that Bell is putting an end to its internet throttling, or the slowing of file-sharing applications that have supposedly been causing congestion on its network. The move is surprising not just because the company is going to stop slowing the connections of its wholesale customers, which it had previously signaled, but its retail subscribers as well.

Back in October, when the wholesale part of that got out, I speculated that it was part of a quid-pro-quo deal with the CRTC, which was in the process of deciding what to do about Bell’s usage-based billing proposal. As my conspiracy theory went, I posited that Bell was testing the waters on cutting out throttling in exchange for the regulator granting it UBB. It was a sort of “you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours” scenario.

About a month later, the CRTC came out with a UBB ruling that was so complex, nobody really knew what to make of it. Media outlets diverged wildly in how they reported the decision - it was either a win for Bell, a win for small ISPs or somewhere in between, depending on which story you read.

In talking with the small ISPs affected by the decision, it was clear that the biggest of them were not pleased. The regulator got the structure of the concept right, but it messed up the pricing, especially in regards to Bell, they said. As a result, their costs would go up, possibly dramatically, which was the whole point of UBB in the first place.

Bell’s imminent dropping of wholesale and retail throttling, which is supposed to take place before March, seems to edify some of those claims and prove that the decision was in fact a win for the company. As the National Post story puts it, Bell is ending throttling because of investments in its infrastructure and an “effective implementation of usage-based billing practices.”

In a letter to the CRTC, Bell says UBB - or whatever it is that the regulator approved - will do the trick:

This is not to say that (peer-to-peer swapping of large files) no longer has an impact on network congestion. Nevertheless . . . in light of the extensive investments made in additional network capacity, and given economic ITMPs (Internet Traffic Management Practices) in the marketplace, the companies will withdraw the shaping of P2P traffic on the companies’ networks.

While some had speculated that the CRTC’s usage-based billing decision was good news for small ISPs and bad news for Bell, that just isn’t the case if the big company is effectively endorsing the ruling by pulling its throttling. It simply wouldn’t be doing so - for congestion, competition or financial reasons - if it wasn’t satisfied with the UBB decision.

It’s possible that Bell has had a change of heart and really doesn’t believe that throttling is necessary anymore, but it’s far more likely that the company is looking to make its internet service more appealing than that of rival Rogers, which has in recent months taken over the throttling crown.

Given that Bell recently got into bed with Rogers to buy the Maple Leafs, is a quid-pro-quo with the CRTC on throttling and usage-based billing really that unlikely? It’s a lot more probable than 9/11 being an inside job or there being multiple gunmen in the JFK shooting. Remember: Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.


Posted by on December 20, 2011 in bell, internet, net neutrality


11 Responses to Bell, throttling and quid pro quo

  1. Chris C.

    December 20, 2011 at 4:46 am

    I agree with you 100% on this one :)

  2. Brian Forgrave

    December 20, 2011 at 7:34 am

    I would have to say ( internet Provider in Canada is Bell ) Everyone else is second as there cards fall. Bell is trying to stay clean, walking around in there white suits. They have the best Mobile Network, which is only going to get a lot faster. I would say to comment on your post: Bell is trying to make Rogers to look bad, but is Bell finished with setting the pricing on to the small ISP’s. I say not, thank you for the wonderfully good reading from your blog. So all have a Merry Christmas & a safe New Year’s.

  3. Simon

    December 20, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Bell: We’re going to stop throttling.
    Peter: You Bastards!

    • petenowak2000

      December 20, 2011 at 10:37 am

      I thought it was our job as journalists to question things?

      • Simon

        December 20, 2011 at 11:02 am

        Of course you’re right - I’m just amused at how sometimes we’re not happy even when we get what we want.

      • Russell McOrmond

        December 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

        I guess I don’t agree that we got what we wanted.

        What I want is the government granted monopolies on the right-of-way to put wires above/below public/private property, and the government granted monopolies in the form of allocated rather than open access spectrum, to be disallowed to abuse that government granted monopoly to damage the free market.

        Did the decision on UBB or the moving away from throttling accomplish that? Not at all: we still have the government granted monopolies collecting monopoly rents from competitors, disallowing a free market.

        The price structure for access to that last-mile is simply wrong: the books must be opened as a condition of that right-of-way access, and that part of the network (and not the rest) must be regulated to guarantee access at reasonable rates for competitors.

        Note: The advantage of throttling was that it could be forced to be more transparent than we have thus far been able to force cost-issue. The phone/cable companies allege proprietary knowledge for the management of the government-granted last mile, and we need to disallow that claim.

  4. petenowak2000

    December 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Very true, and I apologize if I sometimes come off as a crank. The end of throttling is definitely a good news story, but we do have to consider the larger context. It’s possible that UBB or “capacity-based billing” ends up being worse in the long run.

    • Eponymous Coward

      December 20, 2011 at 12:15 pm

      I agree that it could certainly be a quid pro quo, but there’s an even more simple explanation. While throttling p2p traffic appears to be permissible under the CRTC’s ITMP rules, throttling or adversely affecting streaming is most definitely not (especially considering that most providers now own broadcasting assets). Given that Netflix and other video streaming now make up a more sizeable portion of traffic than p2p, it makes financial sense for Bell to shift from technical ITMPs to economic ITMPs as economic ITMPs allow them to monetize the traffic. Or, in other words, if they can’t stop you from watching Netflix, at least they can charge you for the privilege.

  5. Marc

    December 20, 2011 at 11:24 am


    You are right to be a crank. After 11 years of being an unlimited subscriber, I just received a letter from Bell saying they are “discontinuing” my unlimited internet service as of February 14, 2012. They are offering a 25GB capped service at about $44/month. My usage averages 280gb. So I don’t think I will be winning “in light of the extensive investments made in additional network capacity”. Shouldn’t costs be decreasing?

    • hfiguiere

      December 20, 2011 at 11:33 am

      The question how can you be a Bell subscriber for 11 years in light of how the treat their customers?

      • Marc

        December 20, 2011 at 11:48 am

        I didn’t say it was easy, lol.


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